From leaks and creaks to an inventive retreat, taking a punt on a worn-down building in Stratford, Taranaki has led to a string of thriving creativities.
A few years ago, Stuart Greenhill and Jo Stallard were on the hunt for an old building to save anywhere in New Zealand, when they stumbled across Egmont Chambers on Fenton St, Stratford.
“I said to Jo, put in a stupid offer and we’ll just see,” Stuart said. “So she put in a really ridiculous offer and the guy sold it to her.”
Unfortunately, their luck took a turn after that.
“It was a disaster. It was leaking and cold, so we spent a fortune saving it, basically.”
Passionate about history, the pair renovated around the 100-year-old features which earned them the ‘Western Institute Architectural Award’ in 2019.
“The history behind this building tied in with our art and my writing as well so saving the building and then getting it heritage listed was the key.”
The idea was to have an outlet for Jo’s paintings and artworks, while the community could wander through with a coffee in hand, but Jo says “it kind of morphed out of control”.
“It’s now become a fully fledged cafe espresso bar,” she said. “Then Stuart decided to do gin and add a third string to the bow just to keep it interesting.”
Interest in brewing was sparked by gin’s renaissance in Britain, and the Fenton Street Distillery was born. Each gin is dedicated to a different story.
Jo is “The Artist”, Stuart’s passion for writing gives “The Poet” and “The Novelist”, while “The Pioneer” is sworn to the explorers of Stratford.
“When I first started making the gin, I thought I could utilise some of these places and go and collect the botanicals,” Stuart said.
“We go foraging in the bush, we go close to the mountain, and that’s my happy spot looking for and collecting [berries]”.
Horopito, kawakawaka, miro berries, stamens of pōhutukawa, honey and damson plums are fetched on Stuart’s jaunts, although sometimes the friendly locals beat him to it.
“I’ve had people come in and say, ‘you want honey?’ and then they bring in five litres of honey.”
Following their architectural award, The Pioneer gin and another called 1564 Venus and Adonis have won awards at the London Spirits Competition in 2022.
Additional reporting by Emma Andrews.